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The Holly and the Ivy (Chelmsford – tour)

Michael Lunney's production of the play by Wynyard Browne has been rethought for this 18th year tour by Middle Ground.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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The action of The Holly and the Ivy takes place, as you might expect from the title, at Christmas. The year is 1947 when the aftermath of military success – the perhaps inevitable resulting economic and social collapse – is just beginning to strike home.

We are in the living-room of a Norfolk country vicarage and the characters are the extended family of the incumbent. Also on the scene is David, the engineer son of a local farmer who has now been offered a prestigious and well-paid post in South America. He wants Jenny to go with him as his wife.

She sees her duty as staying at home and looking after her widower father – after all, that's what daughters are supposed to do. It's not in the least what her sister Margaret, a Fleet Street journalist, wants to do, while brother Mick still has a year of Army service to endure (though his father wants him to go to Cambridge).

Add in two aunts, one the father's sister and the other his late wife's sibling, an ex-Army cousin – and you have the perfect recipe for a traditional Christmas family show-down. Lunney keeps it simmering well, with a re-designed set and actors who take on board the sincerity of mid-20th century attitudes.

Sally Day's Margaret is particularly effective characterisation with George Telfer, taking over the part of Richard from an indisposed Alan Leith, baking her up. I did wonder why Stuart McGugan's Martin and Saly Sanders' Aunt Bridget sounded so excessively Irish and Tom Roberts' David so very Scottish.

Aunt Lydia is delicately sketched by Hildegard Neil with Rachel Waters perhaps a trifle too subdued as Jenny. Dean Smith plays Mick, a lad who knows how to play the Army to his advantage but is not so sure-touched when it comes to his family.

The Holly and the Ivy runs at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford until 19 November and tours nationally until 30 November.